Part 1. Getting to know where we are:
Three ecological units
Imagine a map of the region where you live. Better yet, open a copy of a real map. Right now, just use this map of an imaginary catchment.
There are three types of local ecological units: Catchment, Neighbourhood and Place.
Bringing these three ideas together brings the science of ecology closer to our day to day activities. It's a way which acknowledges each of us as an integral part of nature.
Each ecological unit is unique. Although there are some similarities between catchments, neighbourhoods and places, they all have an unrepeatable special quality.
Each unit is actually an ongoing process in full motion. We can train ourselves to understand them in a dynamic way. see Part 3 Recognising how we live: glimpses of local ecology in action, also Field Services.
Technically, the area from which rainfall flows into a river. This area begins at the ridgetops, encompasses slopes and valleys and eventually comes down the low point, the sea, the bottom of pond or lake. We extend the definition to include the places undersea which receive the waters from the land. This is usually a section including the coastal shelf or a deeper undersea zone.
The boundaries of a catchment are based largely on physical features. Although we are not used to thinking of the sea and the sea floor as part of our landscape, it is. This is where topsoil, rubbish, contaminants and more get to. This is where we harvest seafood. This is where we play and where we ponder. Politically, there are international treaties defining coastal zones as national places. It is high time we include the near and far marine zones as part of our thinking of local catchments.
The size of catchments vary. To get a sense of how a particular catchment works begins with exploring it throughout different seasons. Walking the waterways, viewing the sights, knowing where the sun rises and sets throughout the year.
As a society, we dont consider understanding a catchment as common sense or general knowledge. But we could. On our own, with family or friends, or in our clubs and groups.
The area of everyday living, marked by physical features as well as social habits. We often sense a neighbourhood clearly, recognise its characteristics and can tell when we have just left the area.
Marking the actual boundaries on a map is more difficult than marking out a catchment. The boundaries are what the people there see as boundaries. And these even change over time, given more thought or with the input of still other people.
This fuzziness is a valuable feature of our definition of neighbourhoods. The boundaries can change, coming into new focus when changes occur. This scope, this changeability is important as it builds flexibility into our understanding of exactly where we live.
According to the Oxford English dictionary, another component of neighbourhoods is emotional, in that the dwellers next door, (are) especially those as having claim on others' friendliness. However slight or strained that feeling can seem sometimes, it exists by sheer virtue of the fact we are all in it together here, on this particular area of land. This feeling is one part of a local ecological ethic.
Collections of neighbourhoods comprise catchments. Where, right off, a catchment seems to be of a scale that is large and remote, neighbourhoods are personable, within our day to day living.
Answering this is a great neighbourhood activity. It can be hosted by a class at school or a community group. It is important that the information is from people who actually live in these neighbourhoods. What do other people think?
It only takes a few people to make a start. Display your results, locally and electronically.
A particular location within a neighbourhood, identified by a number of features: physical, social, historical, spiritual, etc.. It can be natural or made by humans. Its boundaries are fuzzy.
Places comprise neighbourhoods. In the course of a day, we frequent a number of places for different purposes and can end up quite familiar with them. We get fond of some of them and really dislike others.
It is at the level of place that we often first notice that something is going wrong. Development is threatening a patch of bush. There is more rubbish. The water in the stream smells funny. The shellfish are missing. A new exotic plant is spreading.